A VERY LATE SPRING

Having waited months for rain and watched the dams dry up, the grass shrivel and die, leaves fall off trees to expose bare branches, and to live under relentless blue skies so beautiful it hurt to look up in the intense heat day after day, after day … it rained. Not enough to ease our water situation – our town still has no running water available several days in the week – but enough for nature to take the gap and do what it should have been able to do in the spring. To quote from Keats, we had to ask Where are the songs of Spring? / Ay, where are they? Now, as summer barrels towards autumn, we are experiencing a spring-like growth in the garden. Not only are the trees that were so bare a matter of weeks ago able to cast deep shade, but the Pompon trees (Dais cotinifolia) are sporting tiny flower buds.

Cosmos seeds planted with enthusiasm at the end of winter have blossomed at last.

The Van Staden’s River Daisy (Dimorphotheca ecklonis) is putting out a few blossoms that are attracting insects.

Crossberry (Grewia occidentalis) flowers are out.

So are the Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata).

Soon the garden will be brightened when the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) comes out in full bloom.

Don’t for a moment think my garden is awash with flowers. These are the few, very few, that have made it through a scorching summer. The important thing is that they have survived and are doing their best to ensure the survival of their species.

MY AUTUMN GARDEN

The heat combined with a prolonged drought has meant a paucity of flowers blooming during the summer. A light autumnal rain encouraged a few hardy ones to brighten the space – mostly singly and so each has required a much closer look than usual, which I share with you. First is the Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata). These are generally enjoyed en masse and we pay scant attention to the delicate texture and pattern of the petals.

This is the only lavender flower in the garden. Buds have appeared on other plants since the rain and so I have more flowers to look forward to.

The spreading perennial, Commelina benghalensis is starting to blossom. The flowers are so small that one does not usually bend down to appreciate them. At this stage though anything with colour is worth a closer look!

We are approaching the best time of the year to appreciate the trumpet-shaped orange flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), another flower one tends to admire from afar instead of appreciating the delicate darker orange stripes on the petals and the dark stamens.

Then there is a scruffy looking geranium that has survived, bravely showing a flower or two that is also worth a closer look in order to appreciate its beauty.

These pictures were all taken with my cell phone.

MARCH 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

March is a time of change in the garden. The small amount of rain that fell during the month has revived the trees and grass, while encouraging the blooming of the Plumbago.

It is also the time when the natural grasses go to seed, providing a nutritious alternative to the seeds I put out regularly. Weavers are losing their bright breeding plumage and have suspended their nest-building activities until spring. Not so the Olive Thrushes, of which I have counted up to six visible at a time, for at least one pair is still nesting. You will have to look at this photograph very carefully for the patch of orange on top of the dark mass of the nest!

Speckled Mousebirds scour the bushes for tiny berries, leaves, flowers and nectar, while Laughing Doves peck over the recently cleared compost area as well as the masses of tiny figs from the Natal Fig tree that have dropped onto the road below that are crushed by passing vehicles. The clusters of figs also attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings among a host of other birds.

As the Hadeda Ibises are no longer nesting, several have chosen to roost in this tree. On some mornings they wake as early as four o’clock to let the neighbourhood know they have slept well and are ready to discuss their breakfast plans. More melodious are the liquid notes of a pair of Blackheaded Orioles that waft through the garden, along with the gentle cooing of Cape Turtle Doves and the cheerful chirrup of Blackeyed Bulbuls. A pair of Forktailed Drongos regularly keep watch from either the telephone pole or the Erythrina caffra tree, ready to swoop down on anything edible that catches their eye. I have already drawn attention to the pair of Knysna Turacos that reside in the garden and recently posted a photograph of one looking at its reflection in our neighbour’s window. This is the view from the other side:

Cattle Egrets roosting in the CBD continue to experience hard times: two tall trees have recently been removed from the garden of a complex of flats because residents complained about the noise they make as well as the smell of their droppings. Several have taken to perching atop a neighbour’s tall tree in the late afternoons, but are not (yet) overnighting there.

Finally, of course my camera wasn’t at hand when we witnessed the very unusual sight of a Cardinal Woodpecker drinking and bathing in the bird bath only a short distance from where we were sitting!

My March bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

Note: Click on the photographs if you want a larger view.

DROUGHT FLOWERS

Happily, despite the drought, our indigenous garden shows pops of colour now and then. The predominant colour that has brightened the garden over the past few weeks is the light blue of the Plumbago.

Plumbago

The biggest surprise though has been the pale pink blossoms showing on our Spekboom for the first time ever, even though this particular plant has been growing in the garden for about seven years or even longer.

Spekboom

So, those of you with ‘bloomless’ Spekboom in your gardens … there is hope after all!

MAY GARDEN 2018

The bounty of fruit of the Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis) has been eaten, leaving lean pickings for the Redwinged Starlings and causing the majority of African Green Pigeons to seek fruit elsewhere – although some still return to roost here overnight. Apart from a wide variety of birds, such as Speckled Mousebirds, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Blackcollared Barbets, Cape White-eyes, Blackheaded Orioles, Olive Thrushes, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, and Grey-headed Sparrows, the fruit also attracts a variety of insects and the small insectivorous bats that swoop around the garden as the day ends. The latter often remind me of D.H. Lawrence’s description of bats in the poem of the same name:

Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop…
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,  
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

In the back garden, the Erythrina caffra (Coral tree) is sporting clusters of seedpods split open to reveal their coral-red seeds which, in due course, fall to the ground. These small, shiny seeds marked on the one side with a black spot are also known as lucky beans. Laughing Doves and Forktailed Drongos perch in the high branches to catch the warmth of the early morning sun and again in the late afternoon.

The Black Sunbirds and Greater Double-collared sunbirds as well as Blackcollared Barbets, Blackheaded Orioles, Cape- and Village Weavers as well as Redwinged starlings are regular visitors too.

I have mentioned before that the name Erythrina, originates from the Greek word erythros meaning red and alludes to the bright red flowers and seeds. Caffra is derived from the Arabic word for an unbeliever, and as used in older botanical works generally indicates that the plant was found well to the south of the range of Arab traders, that is, along the [south] eastern seaboard of South Africa. Carl Thunberg, known as the father of South African botany, gave the names in 1770.

In parts of South Africa, both the Erythrina caffra and the Erythrina lysistemon are regarded as a royal tree; much respected and admired in Zulu culture and believed to have magic properties. Specimens have been planted on the graves of many Zulu chiefs. In parts of the Eastern Cape, local inhabitants will not burn the wood of Erythrina caffra for fear of attracting lightning.

The indigenous Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) has come into full bloom, covering the trees and shrubs with a canopy of bright golden yellow flowers that attract the Barthroated Apalis, Cape White-eyes and a variety of butterflies. These flowers also exude a delightful aromatic scent that adds to the pleasure of being in the garden.

Equally beautiful are the bright orange tubular flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) that are coming into bloom. These attract the nectar-feeding Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared sunbirds, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, Cape Weavers and Village Weavers as well as several butterflies.

Trusses of the beautiful pale blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) flowers are also starting to appear.

The first aloes are coming into bloom too and are visited regularly by the Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Streakyheaded Seedeaters, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Blackheaded Orioles and Cape White-eyes.